100 years old, 350 years of history
... from an extension of Malden to a thriving city
Melrose celebrates 100th year as a city, 350 years of history
By Christine MacKinnon
Melrose Free Press Staff
In a roundabout way, Melrose was discovered by the Pilgrims. Capt. Myles Standish, accompanied by 10 men, Squanto and two other Wampanoag Indians, embarked on an adventure from Plymouth in September 1621. They apparently landed on the Malden shore of the Mystic River.
Seven years later, many settlers traveled north to Salem. Among them were Ralph, Richard and William Sprague, who, with the support of Governor Endicott, went exploring in the surrounding area. They passed through what is now Lynn, Saugus, Melrose, Malden and Medford, crossed the Saugus, Malden and Mystic rivers, and ended up in Charlestown.
In fact, modern day Melrose was once part of Charlestown, a parcel that extended north to Reading and Burlington and west to include portions of Cambridge. Early residents wanted to establish their own local places of worship, and towns annexed themselves off one by one.
At that time, Melrose was called "Ponde Fielde" because of its numerous ponds and streams. The first settlers included the Lyndes, Spragues, Uphams, Greens, Barretts, Howards and Waites.
By the end of the American Revolution, Melrose was known as North Malden, or the North End of Malden, and was owned largely by the descendants of the dozen or so original families. Though farming was prominent, there were other ways for residents to earn a living. With ferries across the Mystic and Charles rivers, merchants were able to take advantage of the Boston marketplace. Even so, the Community was merely an extension of Malden.
When the Boston and Maine Railroad arrived in 1845, however, everything changed. Suddenly this quiet hamlet became a charming bedroom community. There were three rail stations in town, and neighborhoods sprang up around them to make it easy for residents to commute to their jobs in Boston.
A short five years later, on May 3, 1850, Melrose was incorporated as a separate town. In 1853, the Melrose Highlands area was annexed back to Melrose from Stoneham.
Melrose is named for a city in Scotland. Both William Bogle, a native of Glasgow and a longtime resident of North Malden, and Rev. John McLeish, pastor the Methodist Protestant Church, have been credited with suggesting this name. A booklet published by the Melrose Historical Society in 1915 describes a meeting during which McLeish reportedly said, "I know a beautiful little town in Scotland which resembles this section so much that I should like to have our new town named after it. Mr. Bogle has seen it often; I allude to Melrose." Literally translated, "Melrose" comes from the ancient Celto-British "mailrhos," meaning the cropped moor or meadow.
Melrose experienced a building boom for the next 50 years, slowed only by the Civil War in the 1860s. Farmland was subdivided, public parks and schools were established, and police and fire services were instituted for the first time. Three distinct commercial districts - Main Street, the Highlands and West Wyoming - came into being.
By the end of the century, Melrose had become the ideal place to live for those who worked in Boston but who wanted to have the clean air and the lack of congestion that "the country" provided. On many weekends, Bostonians would "come to the country," taking the train to Wyoming Station to explore the Fells Reservation and Spot Pond.
The first resolve to transform Melrose from a town to a city was proposed at Town Meeting on April 8, 1895, when a committee was appointed to consider the change. A vote was taken Nov. 23, and the proposal was defeated.
The issue came up again on Aug. 18, 1898, when Town Meeting created another committee to draft a potential city charter. On Oct. 3, at a special Town Meeting, residents voted in favor of petitioning the General Court for a city charter.
Melrose officially became a city 100 years ago today - March 18, 1899 - when Gov. Roger Wolcott signed the Acts of Incorporation. The first city elections took place on Dec. 12 of that year and the first mayor, Levi S. Gould, took office Jan. 1, 1900. Town Clerk Walter DeHaven Johns administered the oath of office.
The city was divided into seven wards. Originally, Melrose had a board of 21 aldermen -- seven aldermen at large and two aldermen from each ward. In 1925, the number was reduced to four aldermen at large and one representative for each ward; the system in place today.
The School Committee was comprised of nine members, as it is today.
Though Melrose continued to flourish, it retained much of its green space. Mount Hood Park, Pine Banks and the Fells Reservation set the city apart from downtown Boston. In the late 1970s, the population peaked at roughly 30,000 residents.
In the 1980s, the core downtown area of Main Street was declared an historic district. Trees were planted and Victorian street lanterns were added. Downtown businesses, even those which are part of larger national chains, have facades and signage in line with the city's Victorian theme.
Geographically, today's Melrose lies halfway between downtown Boston and Route 128. With easy access to both, many consider it far enough out of the city to be appealing, yet close enough to be convenient.
As the city approaches the turn of the century, local officials are looking to the future. The Melrose 2010 Committee is a long-range planning group formed to assess the city's priorities in the next decade. Among their interests are affordable housing, public safety facilities, community service through the schools, assisted living and opportunities for continued business growth.
To celebrate the city's centennial, 100 of Melrose's students are scheduled to release 100 balloons today at noon at City Hall. The city's Web site is also scheduled to go on line today.
(Editor's note: Information for this article was compiled from various historical documents including a Melrose Web site authored by James McArdle; "Ancient Melrose: a resume of ye early history of ye city, compiled from authoritative records and documents," published by the Melrose Historical Society in 1915, Levi S. Gould and Franklin P Shumway; "Melrose settled in 1645," Orren Lynde Walsh, Melrose Historical Commission, Melrose Free Press, Oct. 31, 1974.)
Originally published in
April 16, 1999